From Beacons success to future musings: FCB Media's Rufus Chuter on the state of the industry

  • Media
  • May 8, 2015
  • Damien Venuto
From Beacons success to future musings: FCB Media's Rufus Chuter on the state of the industry

At the first two first editions of the revamped Beacon Awards, there wasn’t much open space available on the FCB Media table on account of the sheer number of gongs the agency had collected over the course of the respective nights. At this year’s edition of the flashy awards evening that again seemed more akin to boxing event, the agency picked up a total of 13 awards, which is believed to be the highest number in the history of the event.

Coinciding with this recent strong run of form is the tenure of FCB Media’s head of strategy Rufus Chuter, who joined FCB from London’s MEC in May 2012. And although he has certainly been integral in defining the agency’s direction, he attributes the success to the efforts of everyone in the building.

“It is a real team effort, which is fantastic when you work in an integrated team that’s close together like our model is,” Chuter says. “It needs to be cultural as well as structural; you need everyone buying into the value of collaboration between creative and media, rather than just structuring for it. That means media planners understanding the value of ideas and allowing media to flex as ideas evolve - and that’s different to being told what to book; and creatives who appreciate that media thinking can drive effectiveness by mapping the bigger narrative beyond executions, or by bringing in publishers and partners that understand how to engage with a specific audience or subject. The interplay between the two is critical.”

But Chuter concedes that this collaborative approach isn’t a given, and that there’s always a possibility of creative and media stepping on each other’s toes.  

“In my history across media agencies sometimes I think they’ve been guilty of a sense of entitlement when it comes to involvement in the creative process, without accepting the need to prove we add value when we are involved.”

And at a time when zeros and ones of digital are multiplying and appearing across virtually all aspects of the industry, Chuter says that collaboration between media and creative is more imperative than it has been before. 

“Because the feedback loop is so immediate, it forces media and creative—whether they’re agencies or departments—to get much closer and work in a more iterative way. There’s more always-on activity and dynamic creative, meaning greater opportunity to test, learn and evolve both message and placement.”

The major advantage of digital advertising is that media agencies are able to track campaign performance and respond in real time if something needs to be changed. 

And this shift has also seen the role of marketers change. As evidenced by a recent interview with Mitre 10’s Dave Elliott—a long-time client of FCB—the importance of constant tracking has had a very tangible impact on his day-to-day (or rather minute-to-minute) responsibilities.


“We have four screens up in our office here, which show: social media and what’s being said right now in real time; how many people have entered our ‘win a Toyota’ competition; what they’re searching for online; and which videos they’re watching,” Elliott told NZ Marketing. “This way we can keep track of which products are going to be in demand this week, then we can react to that through social media, on our website or wherever. We’re really responding to what people are doing, and we can see the effects of what we’re doing. So, if we put a banner on a website that advertises swimming pools, we can see if people are going online and looking at swimming pools. This has also saved our bacon a few times. When we’ve seen things coming through on Facebook, we’re able to climb on there and provide information that’s helpful. It’s just a matter of being responsive.”

Chuter says that this real-time data can always be used to create connections between the digital and real worlds.  

“The availability of real-time data and the always-connected state of media allows us to more actively interplay between content and context, so that the content can flex in real-time based on the environment that it’s in. A great example would be British Airways ‘The Magic of Flying’, which very clearly demonstrates how content can react to context. What I loved about the Magic of Flying, and what’s often great about Cannes, is it pushed everyone into thinking differently.”      

And while is clearly a fan of such responsiveness, Chuter is also pragmatic, saying that marketers need to complement immediate responsiveness with long-term thinking that takes the bigger picture into account.  

“In any measurement system, when you can see results very quickly, it’s important that you have a macro perspective to optimisation and that you’re not effecting knee-jerk reactions based on short-term blips or anomalous data,” Chuter explains. “Was performance due to our campaign or just yesterday’s weather? What’s causation and what’s correlation? I’m sure everyone’s seen how easy it is to get this wrong.” 

Another problem that pervades the industry, particularly in the social space, is that marketers have focused on getting likes or fans rather than actual business metrics. 

“I’d like to think we’re all becoming a bit more realistic about Facebook and the extent to which people want to genuinely engage with brands and the exchange they’re expecting,” says Chuter.

This sentiment was effectively summarised by the always-incendiary Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman who said:   

“Social media marketing is useful for ultra-high-interest products (movies, bands, celebrities) and some small brands in small categories. For the rest of us -- as we have been saying here for years -- the idea that consumers are in love with our brands and want to have conversations or social interactions about our brands online is an infantile delusion. The billion or so people engaged in social media want to engage with each other. Not ads, not brands, not you, not me.”

While not quite as fiery in his estimation, Chuter says that Facebook’s recent acquisitions are also indicative that the company understands that its future is in data.     

“Purchasing ad serving platforms like Atlas is a very clear signal that Facebook’s future is not necessarily about helping brands get a lot more fans—although that’s important—but rather about monetising that data across a far wider range of platforms. It’s that bringing together of media and direct, targeting customers as well as prospects, that Facebook are right in the middle of … in a world where we’re drowning in content, popularity is becoming an increasingly important filter for our attention and our Facebook newsfeeds play a critical role here. When you combine this with the ability to target content into those newsfeeds based on highly specific demographic, behavioural or transactional data, then you’ve got a very powerful platform.” 

But the granularity of the data available means that marketers need to specify exactly what they want from a promotion, and the FCB strategist says that campaigns should always be measured against clear KPIs that both the client and agency have defined and agreed upon. 

“Irrespective of whether digital’s involved every media agency should be making sure they’re crystal clear on the objectives of communications. Too often we allow the tail to wag the dog, particularly with digital, allowing campaign metrics like cost per click or response rates to convince us things are going well.”

So should agencies invest in specialists dedicated to looking after the various technical sections that have emerged due to digital disruption?

“Despite best intentions, sometimes specialists can make their area seem overly complicated. They’re passionate and they live and breathe it so it’s understandable. But we need to be able to simplify the complicated and bring things back to the fundamental truths of marketing and people’s behaviour." 
He adds: “The idea that we can silo digital is anachronistic but we have to keep evolving as technology does. So, on the one hand ensuring we have a strong generalist understanding across the whole team is important, and at the same time we need to keep investing in specialism that reflects how the world’s changing. It’s critical we’re not doing either at the expense of the other. For example, we’re investing in programmatic specialism, because we know that’s going to be a much more generalist skill in two to three years. At the same time, we’re investing in training and sharing programmes to ensure we all understand how digital thinking is impacting on how we add value.”

And this, says Chuter, also applies to leadership roles within the organisation—and this means that he sees the heads of digitals as “integrators of specialisms” or individuals who bring specialisms together.”

“A head of digital is basically head of everything aren’t they?”

Further to this point, Chuter believes that the continued use of the word ‘digital’ is almost anachronistic in the current media context. 

“It’s an interesting debate regarding at what point you should stop using the D-word, and we’ve talked about it internally. It feels like the industry’s not there yet, but it’s also not hard to imagine a future where we just stop using it. It’s not like we have an analogue team so why call out digital? Even by using the D-word are we creating separation that doesn’t exist in people’s lives …”
But he says that the semantic discussions are finally starting to recede and that marketers are now focusing on audiences rather than where a message is being delivered.    

“Radio is digital, TV is digital, ‘print’ content is digital, so structuring media around ‘digital’ versus ‘non digital’ is increasingly problematic. The same is true of marketing disciplines – when we’re using paid media to reach customers as part of a CRM programme is that media or direct? Does it matter? So I would hope that we are talking less about digital and non-digital campaigns and more about how we create seamless communication that reflect how people live their lives.”

As has always been the case in marketing and comms, this requires big ideas. Fortunately, this is an area that FCB also hasn’t struggled with in recent years. 

The creative team sitting in the same office as Chuter’s media crew has over the last few years developed memorable award-winning campaigns across all channels. Creatives such as James Mok, Regan Grafton, Tony Clewett and Kelly Lovelock have steered the agency from the middle of the pack to becoming one of the major contenders at the Axis Awards every year. And the future also looks bright for the agency in that copywriter Matt Williams was recently selected as the ‘One to Watch’ at The One Show awards events.

Another thing that FCB has working in its favour is a ‘no wanker’ policy, which means that those who join the team—whether on the media, creative or PR side—enjoy their time there and find it difficult to leave. And in an industry known for fickleness and the constant migration of talent, keeping its brightest minds in the building has allowed FCB to perform consistently across all its marketing disciplines in recent years.

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